When Man and Nature Collide

looking back, I have probably shot at least a thousand birds over my life.  Luckily for my winged friends (with the exception of two) these shots have all been with a shutter release and not with projectiles.  However, I must confess that indirectly I have shortened the life of a few.  Call me a softie, but this always saddens me a little when I think about how much pleasure I get from watching them gather around my feeders.  The irony of it all is that the feeders are often the catalyst for their accidental demise.  To fully experience living in the country, we architected our house to provide nice views into the surrounding woods.  This translated into a large amount of glass, the evil nemesis of all Aves.  Every once in awhile we hear a loud bang in the living room.  Being familiar with the common cause of this startling noise, I reluctantly head towards the windows.  Inevitably, this is the typical scene:

A perfectly good bird cut down by the magic of sand and a small cavity for brain matter.  Actually, I’ve seen humans walk into glass doors as well, so not sure how much the brain size plays into this particular situation.  By a general rule of thumb, the survival rate is directly proportional to the volume of the impact.  Through extensive trial and error, I’ve been able to improve this rate at least a little bit.  The success is dependent on how quick you can come to the aid of the injured bird.   Upon impact, the bird often loses consciousness and drops backwards onto the porch – the reasoning behind this still needs further research.  If the bird doesn’t snap it’s neck, it will show signs of convulsions both with fluttering wings and spastic feet.  This is exactly the state I found the bird pictured above (note I had the camera in my hand already taking pictures of some other subjects).  If you can get to the bird in this state, you must immediately flip it back over on its feet/belly.  If you leave it upside down, it will die every time (my apologies to all the failed experiments before this was figured out).  Kind of reminds me of my mode of operation with my drunk friends in college, but let’s stay on topic.

Hit the jump for some good news!

Continue reading When Man and Nature Collide

A Surprise Thrashing

Since the moment we started building our house in the woods, I’ve been busy taking photos of all the birds that drop by from time to time.  After awhile the diversity of species begins to fade as the same bird types tend to inhabit the same area year after year.  Some become so familiar that their tiny imperfections allow you to actually give them names.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy taking their pictures – if nothing else, the light settings and perch choices are always unique so there is always a challenge.  The main point of mentioning this is it makes new arrivals a big deal around here.  As soon as I spot a new bird type, I scramble for the camera in the hopes of getting a least some sort of picture to capture the moment (and to have proof for adding another check to my watch list).   As you can probably guess, I spotted a new bird to the homestead a few days ago.  Luckily, I was able to get a few shots.  As with all my pictures, the full versions can be seen on our Photography site at eddiesoft.smugmug.com. If you go there, you can view them at any size you want up to the original size (note, I always use medium for images in this blog).

So, after dinner I looked out and noticed a strange bird a ways out from the house.  Immediately thinking this might be a new find, I grabbed the closest camera (D7000) and headed out to the porch in hopes of snapping a few shots.  Our Beast was not currently on this particular camera having stored it away after our last photo shoot.  Luckily, the 80-200 glass was attached giving me some reach into the yard.

I was fighting the light going down as well trying to steady myself while hand holding the camera – must have been all the excitement of the chance to capture a new bird.  On full manual, I had to bump the ISO up to 800 for most of the shots in order to get the shutter speed I needed to help compensate for my shaky hands.  The shot above is a full shot giving you some perspective of the distance I was dealing with (this was at full 200mm I believe).  As you learn pretty quick taking bird pictures, any distance at all causes that bird to appear pretty small.  However, with the power of crop, we can take you a little closer in.

Hit the jump to see a lot more (and better) pictures of my feathered friend.

Continue reading A Surprise Thrashing

So Big They Have Two Names

This is your heart … Thump …….. Thump……….. Thump ………… Thump ………… Thump. This is your heart when the month is nearly over and you have not met your blog quota ..Thump.Thump.Thump.Thump.Thump. Good thing a Boy Scout is always prepared (and for the record, by Boy Scout I mean the one month I actually lasted in that organization but hey, something sunk in.. that and hitch knots). Today’s subject is one of those animals you tend to stand there in awe over.  Are they capable of blinding speed, gifted jumping abilities or possibly grace in the water or sky? Not so much. To be honest I think it tends to bring back memories of our country’s heritage, a reminder of our past both good and bad.

If you are from the heartlands of America (with a slight lean to the West), you will recognize this animal as the Bison or the Buffalo depending on your history books. These hoofed animals are simply huge and can be seen quite far away as they move their bulk around the grasslands. These shots were actually taken at our local Wildlife Prairie Park (Edwards, Illinois) featuring animals historically native to the great plains.

Linda and I watched this particular animal stroll in from afar. It didn’t take us long to figure out the reason for soon after spotting it, we noticed the park workers spreading out the grain to our right. Another fine example of Pavlovian Training.  I have no idea how many times they eat a week, but clearly the number of buckets they were spreading around was not sufficient enough to fill up this guy, much less the rest of the herd that was following a little behind.  The next time I am at the park I’ll try to hunt someone down that can give me the full story on their eating habits.  It is possible this is just done as a treat to bring them closer to the public and the real feeding happens out in the back fields.  I’ll let you know what I find out.

One of my observations from numerous encounters while visiting the park and on various vacations out West is how calming these animals are. They never seem to be concerned about anything and go about their business pretty much oblivious to their surroundings. This is likely due to their size relative to their competing food chains, but those horns might make a few of the more aggressive predators a little squeamish. This doesn’t mean they are not keeping an eye on you.

Okay, sometimes they have to squint a little … but they are still open enough to size up your scrawny body. Oh, I just remembered one amazing scene we experience out in Yellowstone a couple of years ago. Linda and I were out on a trail snapping some pictures of elk and and few Bison that happened to be shading themselves under a grove of trees. All of sudden I heard a commotion in the parking lot several hundred feet away. Eventually I pinpointed the source. A huge buffalo was actually running across the parking lot somehow dodging the incoming cars and avoiding the parked one. Definitely not gazelle speed, but they can get moving far faster than previously expected. Just imagine that bulk moving at you… yikes, let’s hope they keep that docile gene.

They next time you have the pleasure of encountering one of these majestic creatures, take a few minutes to just enjoy the moment. Yes, I know they were a victim of America’s advancement and there is absolutely nothing you or I can do to change the past. Instead focus on the proud heritage of the creature and what it has come to stand for.  A great representation of how proud we are to call America our home.

And if you have a differing opinion of our country…. well, I can’t say it any better than this:

Know Thy Enemy

My mini vacation from blogging duties has come to its end. Truth be told, I have not written a new blog entry since January. Thanks to the scheduling capabilities in WordPress I was able to write all 6 of the February posts in January and simply queue them up for release at various times throughout the month. I even added an additional book recollection post to kick off the March posts just in case I did not get back in the swing of things in time. Enough slacking, it’s time to get back into the groove. The good news is the blogging downtime was filled with working on the photo backlog. While hunting for the Maine vacation pictures I stumbled on a set of Wildlife Prairie Park pictures we took last year. Those turned out pretty nice so I figured you might want to see some of them. This particular set focuses on an animal that is not one of my favorites.

For the city dwellers, this specimen before you comes from the coyote family. Unfortunately, I do not remember the specific species, but will make a point to track that down the next time we visit Wildlife Prairie Park. One might be under the impression that I as an avid Wolf enthusiast would have an equal affinity to these particular animals. This likely due to them both having four paws, a tail, tend to group in packs and have other similar canine features. If you happen believe this, it is my sad obligation to inform you that you are wrong. There are a few outward differences, the main one being stature. Wolves are generally much larger than coyotes and their legs tend to be longer relative to their overall body size (this is actually my first indicator when trying to distinguish the two).

To see the rest of the coyote collection, just hit the jump

Continue reading Know Thy Enemy

Phoadtography Gallery: Maine Trip 2010 Pt 1

This year is quickly coming to a close, but the blog queue is still deep with 2010 photo collections.  I try to keep it fresh and maintain a balance of photos, interesting viewpoints, service complaints/rants and things that make me go huh?  Linda and I were lucky enough to go on some pretty nice trips this year which means our hard drives have been riddled with photos this year.  It is far easier to make comments on things if they are still in short term memory so rather than push this off to next year, let’s go ahead and dump the Phoadtography collection from the Maine trip we took in June.  There are a lot of them so be warned, your browser cache is going to get a workout.  For sanity purposes (yours and mine) this post will actually be a two parter.  For those who don’t know what Phoadtography is please check out my previous post… especially if you are preparing to unleash your fury on how bad some of these shots ended up being.

Starting off this set is every kid’s favorite toys and more importantly, the machines that pay both our salaries.  Guessing due to the stimulus money (that actually got spent on job creating projects), we encountered a lot of construction on our way out and back to Maine.  Most travelers probably cuss the slow downs and stoppages, but in the case of my wife and I the sound of Caterpillar machines in motion is music to our ears.  As mentioned in the introduction Cat machines are always a good target for Phoadtography shots.  This vehicle is one of our articulated trucks that, if I remember correctly, are produced in Waco TX.

Pretty cool machine if I say so myself.  Hit the jump to see the rest of the pictures in this post.

Continue reading Phoadtography Gallery: Maine Trip 2010 Pt 1

Beware the Urban Ninja

Remember me, I’m the dude that is suppose to have 6 posts a month yet it is nearly Christmas and the tally is stuck at a lousy one.  Of course, there is another more “half full” way to look at it which is 67 out of 72 in the books already with another New Year’s commitment about to get the checkmark.  Truth is things have been busy as of late, but Friday was my last day of work this year which leaves me plenty of time to pound on the keyboard.  Which brings me to tonight’s quick post.  Linda and I were up in the Quad Cities yesterday to have Christmas dinner (actually to be more accurate, Christmas lunch) with her side of the family.  Linda’s middle brother lives in Bettendorf IA which is minutes away from our favorite place to take eagle pictures.  With the cameras all packed, we left an hour early to give us some time to see if this year’s eagles had made their way down yet.

Unfortunately, I only saw two eagles.  One ended up flying over us and landing in the trees at the other end of the parking lot.  Creeping over there in my best ninja impersonation provided about 5 “bird on a stick” shots.  By the last shot, he was clearly staring at me rather intently before deciding his wings gave a significant advantage over the land dwellers and left for the safety somewhere out in the Mississippi River.  Stupid me didn’t have the camera configured to my preferred in flight settings making it difficult to get shots as he flew directly over my head.  Eventually another decided to check out the fish options nearby, but again, no shots worth bragging about.  I did walk down a little and say hello to another photographer that had set up along the river.  After some lens envy (always impressed by the $6K+ fast glass some people haul out there).  According to that photographer there were 10 eagles nesting in a nearby set of trees, but another photography couple had decided to walk directly out to those trees and scared them all away.  They were on their way back over while I was talking to the guy.  Guessing the dude wasn’t too happy about that since he literally stared at them the entire time they were walking back past him until they were in their car heading out.  Keep in mind, it was about 1 degree out and he was probably staking out that location for some time.  I always try to be conscious of other photographers in the area and respect their positions especially if they were there before me.  For the curious, I verified there were no other photographers taking pictures of the eagle I saw at the end of the lot, otherwise the approach would have been delayed.

Guessing at this point that it is still a little early for the best eagle watching.  After about 10 more minutes I called it a shoot and headed back to the car where Linda and the dogs were waiting patiently.  Another car pulled into the area just as I reached the edge of the lot.  Something seemed odd about it, but had difficulty pinning it down.  Nothing really unique or special about the car, in fact, it was a pretty boring 4 door in a champagne or off silver color.  There were no stickers or ornate hangings from the rear view mirror that would interest me either.  As I started to turn back to our car it became clear why the brain alarm was going off.  The front license plate was covered in a camouflage cloth.  It was also done with care since it was perfectly wrapped and tight fitting like a package.  Although I was trying n0t to stare since the car was right next to me and the owner was still inside, it did seem like it was actually more like a shower cap of sorts that had elastic on the backside which held it tight to the plate bracket.  Okay, now I am totally curious.  Is this some kind of car ninja all decked out in clever urban camo?  Maybe he’s like a transporter and wants to remain stealth like or worse here to kill me, take my camera and throw my lifeless carcass into the frozen river.  Conscious of the latter option I headed back to our SUV.  Once inside I informed Linda of the interesting situation, but it didn’t seem to be as intriguing to her as it was to me.  Needing to get to her brother’s, she backed out and headed to the exit.  As we passed the car, the first thing I noticed was it had a rear license plate (Iowa) that wasn’t covered up at all.  At the same time the owner of the car got out revealing he was probably in his late 60’s early 70’s causing an internal chuckle since my own ninja skilz would have kept me safe and sound.  This whole things still interests me and still kicking myself for not trying to get a shot for you.  Linda’s conclusion was that he didn’t want his car being photographed by the traffic cameras in the Quad Cities and therefore put the cover on the front.  I’d almost buy this under the assumption the traffic cameras only took head-on shots, but guessing they also take a rear shot just in case.  Secondly, and more importantly, it is mandatory in Iowa (like Illinois) to have a front license plate, so actually he is putting himself in a more likely position to get pulled over and given a ticket by any of the local police forces.

Probably reading more into this than there really is, but I’m all about the weird and this discovery fits the bill.  Any of you have theories on this you would like to share?  If not, I’m going with the discovery of an urban ninja using his clever skilz to live among us without detection (this includes the old guy disguise).  For what evil purposes is still unclear, but clearly lucky to be alive today to tell about it.

2′ Away from Freedom

Might as well get this out of the way now.  It’s time to put the Um with the Yang and bring this day to a close.  The celebration of 160 was put to the side this evening due to an unfortunate situation my wife experienced earlier tonight while on her way back from the dog show.  She was likely having a similar good day thanks to a couple of good runs from the little ones.  Unfortunately, those same dogs found themselves looking up from the  floor mats on their way home thanks to this:

Before anyone panics, everyone is fine. Well, everyone but the SUV and the dumbass deer that decided to play Frogger. In the deer’s defense, this is the first weekend of shotgun season so they are all probably running for their lives and throwing caution out the door. I just wish they were smart enough to stay in the woods out of sight being that it was after sundown and the hunters should have already called it quits for the day. As it turns out, Linda was driving by the Jubilee College entrance which is about halfway between Kickapoo and Brimfield IL. This is essentially big buck region and this particular corridor is deer alley. Most of the time they stay to the sides and tend to heed the roadways to the faster and heavier vehicles. You can always tell those not from the area because those are the ones who unknowingly have a death wish by speeding through these parts. Apparently this particular deer decided to test fate on a dead run and almost made it. By my estimates, it was probably less than 2 feet from freedom when it was clipped by the SUV bumper. Luckily, that particular area had a reduced speed due to a small subdivision. Linda said she locked them up but wasn’t able to avoid the impact. Guessing this sudden deceleration is what sent the boys for a thrill ride. It was a pretty big deer and fur ended up flying from the impact, but those deer are tough. I totaled a Daytona on one and it was still alive afterwards (broken legs, but still alive). I took a walk in the dark, but couldn’t find any remains so guessing it is nursing a pretty sore hind at the moment.

Catch a couple more shots after the jump

Continue reading 2′ Away from Freedom

Biology Apology – Now We’re Even

My fingers are still sore from the last mega-post so decided to go with a quick one today.  I do not know what the weather was like in your part of the world, but the US Midwest experienced a rather wet Spring and Summer season.  In fact, it just started raining a few minutes ago.  As a well owner, this does not bother me at all and takes a few worries off the daily list.  This rain does have an interesting side effect.  Some validation research is still ongoing, but the preliminary results indicate we have a ton more frogs and toads hopping all over the place in these conditions.  By the incredibly loud croaking that fills the night ambiance, the guess is they are at near plague levels this year.  You know about our stream in the back lot by now, but we also have a couple of ponds near our property that provide a perfect environment for them.  Over time you get pretty good at locating them especially late at night when they are hopping in desperation to escape the car lights and their frantic leaping out of harm’s way from the mowers.  As a personal favor to the reptile gods I try my best to allow them time to make it to safety – a small token of appreciation for helping me get through Biology class.  Every once in awhile, we uncover some nice specimens and usually head straight for the cameras.  Actually that isn’t entirely correct.  First we have to make sure our youngest dog (Rizzi) will leave them alone.  He has an uncanny ability to locate these creatures whenever they visit our porch and makes a bee line to them in order give them a thorough sniffing.  A running joke is our dog needs his frog licking hallucinogenic fix.

To finish cleaning up for the Halloween party, I needed to relocate a bunch of leftover boards from the bridge project.  While lifting up one of the boards, I noticed this amazing frog.

This was clearly worth stopping what I was doing and hunting down the camera.  Slap on the macro glass and off to the shoot.  In an effort not to disturb it much, a decision was made not to bother putting my hand or foot close to it for a better sizing perspective.  For reference, it was sitting on 1″ driveway rock so by that estimate it was probably 4-5″s long and had a pretty beefy 2″ sitting height to it.  It never moved the entire time I was snapping pictures either due to being there the whole time I was working on the wood or simply scared completely out its wits.  In either case, a stationary subject is always a good thing with the macro glass.  There was also some interesting lighting I was trying to play with.  Here is one of those experiments.

I actually really liked how this turned out.  There is enough contrast to isolate the frog from the rock and the upper shadow helps make it stand out really nice in the frame.  If you get a chance, jump over to the Smugmug gallery and look at it in the largest size available – pick Original to see the image in all its detail.  The eye came out very nice and you can make out the pretty cool toes.  As far as the frog family goes, this is probably the second largest I have had the pleasure of actually coming in contact with outside of the zoo.  The largest was one we found in a basement window well at my brother Dan’s previous house back in Channahon IL.  That frog was a good 7-8″s long and easily had a resting height of 3-4″s.  After some reluctance to actually touch that one, we finally managed to get it out of there and sent it on its way back towards a nearby river.

Hit the link to see another angle of … I shall call him Leo

Continue reading Biology Apology – Now We’re Even

I Hope It is Worth It

First off, Happy Birthday Ron!

Okay, we’re down to the final hour with all the marbles on the line.  Let’s do a quick check 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, …. 5…. oh crap, I’m down a post.  What to do, what to do.  Actually, there are no worries, I have been loading up my SmugMug site with a ton of pictures.  One of my recent favorites is a set of macro shots I took on our porch a few months ago.  I was was walking on the porch one sunny day when one of the more interesting insects decided to take a stroll on my siding.

Probably out of the insects I come upon around here, the praying mantis is the one that fascinates me the most (the stick bug comes in a close second).  From a photographer’s perspective, they have a nice vibrant color and a ton of cool features that pop out nicely under the macro lens.  They have a number of dynamic features ranging from the hook like feet, highly articulated legs and fine hairs running along the edges.  The best part of working with these specimens is that they are fairly docile and do not tend to panic at the presence of a camera glass shoved close to their face.  Speaking of which, this one was practically posing for the glass.

In case you are wondering, in this particular shot he is gnawing on his own foot.  Check out the creepy pupils.  They can track just about anywhere around the eye bulb and basically remained on me the entire time, regardless of what position or angle the camera was in.  Here is another on of the face with the pupils transitioned up to the top of the head.  Based on nature’s law, typically, animals with such range of vision are considered the prey where the more forward fixed animals fall in the predator range.  By that rule, one would think the mantis was somewhat docile, but the male mantis probably has a different opinion of that seeing as how the the female rips the cranium off of him after mating.

hit the jump for more shots!

Continue reading I Hope It is Worth It

An Interesting Visitor

A week or so ago, Linda called me regarding a creature that was staring into our great room patio doors.  The odd thing is she was unable to tell me exactly what it was other than it was big, furry and the dogs were quite upset about it violating their space.  Short of a large rat, I still was not sure what it could be. One idea came to mind – “did it look like an otter and have a long skinny tale?”, I asked.  That resulted in a negative response which ruled out my arch nemesis the muskrat.  Luckily, she managed to take some  pictures.

It definitely was not a muskrat.  Turns out it was a groundhog.  Oddly enough, this is probably the first groundhog we have seen on our property since we acquired it.  We have had our share of squirrels, snakes, ground squirrels (or chipmunks), plenty of deer and that damn muskrat, but not one of these oversized rodents.

Apparently they are pretty nimble seeing as how it managed to balance itself on a single 4 inch board on our deck.  By this time the boys were in full bark so it was probably figuring out what its escape plan was.  Guessing it was more afraid of the large human yelling at it and taking pictures through the glass doors.

Finally a shot that showed its bushy tail confirming that it wasn’t the devil spawn muskrat (yes, I harbor deep hatred).  Not only is it nimble, it apparently does not have any bones in that fur.  That railing is only about 5 inches off the deck and it managed to squeeze its whole body under it.  To be honest, it looks kind of cute with its perky ears and plush fur.  Cute or not, it still needs to find another place to roam – their holes tend to be fairly large and destructive.  We had one living under a shed at our old house and it managed to dig a huge ditch all the way around the skids it sat on.  I had to put up a screen all the way around the shed to keep it out.

Hit the jump for a few more shots

Continue reading An Interesting Visitor